Pop Singer Neil Sedaka Plays Not My Job We've asked Neil to play a game we're calling "Oops ... we can glue that back together, right?" Three questions in honor of the museum visitor who tripped and put her hand right through a priceless Picasso painting. Originally broadcast Jan. 30, 2010.

Pop Singer Neil Sedaka Plays Not My Job

Pop Singer Neil Sedaka Plays Not My Job

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Neil Sedaka has just released a new album of original songs called "The Music of My Life." Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images hide caption

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Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Neil Sedaka has just released a new album of original songs called "The Music of My Life."

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

During his 50(plus)-year career, Neil Sedaka has written and recorded some of the catchiest tunes in pop history, including Calendar Girl, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, and Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen.

We're asking Neil to play a game we're calling "Oops ... we can glue that back together, right?" Three questions in honor of museum visitor who tripped and put her hand right through a priceless masterpiece by Picasso.

Believe it or not, this isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened. Neil will answer questions about three other unfortunate events that prove that God really, really doesn't like the fine arts.

Originally broadcast Jan. 30, 2010.


From NPR and Chicago Public Radio, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! the NPR news quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. And here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you so much, Carl.


SAGAL: Thank you, everybody. Great to see you. This week, we are listening to people we normally - well, we listen to. It's all-musicians edition of WAIT WAIT.

Not long ago, we were joined by Neil Sedaka, one of the great American pop singer-songwriters, the guy who gave us "Calendar Girl" and "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," and dozens of other hits.

KASELL: Finally, somebody who knows how to rock. Well, when Neil was on, our panelists were Luke Burbank, Roxanne Roberts and Tom Bodett. We started by asking Neil how he got started.

M: Well, I started as a concert pianist at the Julliard here in New York, and then I got into crazy rock and roll. And I've been doing it for more than 50 years.

SAGAL: Oh, my gosh, now we heard that you published your first song when you were 13, is that right?

M: Not quite. My first published song was 16.

SAGAL: Sixteen. Well, what were you writing about? Is it like, doing homework is hard to do? What...


M: I was writing teenage music for a teenage market.

SAGAL: Oh, really, so what was it that made you change? You were at Julliard, you were studying classical music. And then you said to yourself, oh, I want to get into this pop music thing because the groupies are better? What was your...

M: I wanted to make money.

SAGAL: Ah, that.



M: It's nice to play a Beethoven sonata, but it's nicer to make money.

SAGAL: Right. And did your parents approve of this move to vulgar popular music?

M: They hated it.

SAGAL: Really?

M: Oh, they were horrified. They said, there's a million people who can sing and write songs. You have to be a concert pianist. But I bought my mother a mink stole; she was over the moon, so happy.

SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: You're telling me you bought her off.

M: Yes.


SAGAL: So you started, you eventually ended up at the legendary Brill Building, right?

M: We used to write from 10 in the morning until 5 at night, five days a week, $50 a week, to write songs.

SAGAL: Now this is...

M: What a crazy way to make a living.

SAGAL: Now this is famous time and place in American musical history, because it was sort of like a pop song factory there on Broadway, was it? In Manhattan?

M: That's right, yes. And Carole King was there, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Tony Orlando, it was a nice group. And we wrote these songs. And my first song was recorded by Connie Francis. And I wrote a lot of songs for her. And then Bobby Darren and Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley - but I'm name- dropping.


SAGAL: So you had all these amazing, amazing hits that we all remember still being played today, through the '60s. In fact, there's that famous line, it's in the chorus of "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do." What is it, like, down doobie do down down?

M: Those are some of my best lyrics.

SAGAL: Don't you think?


M: Absolutely. When I ran out, I put in a doobie do.

SAGAL: Really? And you were known for this, you were like the doobie do guy.

M: That's right.

SAGAL: Did you actually like, write them out - doobie do down down.

M: I did, indeed.


SAGAL: Right. Now, you had all these songs during the '60s, and then in the '70s things changed, things bifurcated. There was like, disco on the one hand, and there was punk and hard rock on the other. I mean, did you - was it difficult for you then, as musical styles started to change?

M: Well, I used to walk down the street and people asked: Didn't you used to be Neil Sedaka?


SAGAL: And what did you say?

M: I said, well, I'm still Neil Sedaka; you haven't heard the last of me.

SAGAL: So, you managed. Did you change your style, did you just keep writing your own songs and...

M: I had to change my style. It was the early '70s, and I met a guy by the name of Elton John. Did you ever hear of him?

SAGAL: I've heard of him. He had funny glasses, if I remember correctly.

M: Yes, he put me on his record label in the early '70s, and I had a big comeback, "Laughter in the Rain," and an album called "Sedaka's Back."

SAGAL: There was one thing that I wanted to ask you about: You did a song for Captain and Tennille in the '70s, right?

M: Yes, I wrote a song called "Love Will Keep Us Together."

SAGAL: And that became their huge, signature hit. That was their song.


M: Thank you for remembering.

SAGAL: Absolutely.

M: I'm very happy I launched them.

M: Not a night of karaoke goes by in this country that that song is not performed.


M: Over a hundred-thousand times.

SAGAL: It's true.

M: As long as they remember the words.

SAGAL: That's true.

M: Well, they're on a screen if you forget them.


SAGAL: Hey, before we move on to the game, I wanted to ask you about your new record. You just put out a record of your own songs - you performing them, just like the old days. There's a song on it that you wrote when you were a teenager.

M: Yes, the only old song, I was 16 years old, it was a do-wop song. I actually started a do wop group in high school, in New York, called the Tokens. Do you remember the Tokens?


M: What was their hit?

M: "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

SAGAL: That's it.

M: That is correct.

SAGAL: In the jungle, the mighty jungle.


SAGAL: Very good.

M: That is correct.


SAGAL: Well, Neil, are you ready to play the game?

M: I'm not sure.


SAGAL: All right, well you have done so far so good, so we'll see what happens now.

M: OK.

SAGAL: Neil Sedaka, we're so delighted to have you. We have invited you here to play a game that we're calling...

KASELL: "Oops, We Can Glue That Back Together, Right?"

SAGAL: You may have heard that a visitor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art tripped and put her hand right through a masterpiece by Picasso. This, it turns out, is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, not by a long shot. We're going to ask you about three more instances that prove that God really, really does not seem to like the fine arts.


SAGAL: Answer two questions out of three correctly, you will win our prize for one of our listeners. Carl, who is Neil Sedaka playing for?

KASELL: Neil is playing for Tim Brown of Collinsville, Connecticut.

SAGAL: Ready to play, Neil?

M: Why not?

SAGAL: Here we go, here's your first question. In 2000, a drawing by modern artist Lucien Freud, worth more than $100,000, came to a bad end in London. What happened: A, somebody was smoking a cigarette, and leaned too close to take a look at it; B, It was put through a shredder; or C, it was mistaken for a child's drawing and thrown out?

M: I say A.

SAGAL: You say A, somebody smoking a cigarette leaned too close and poof, that's your guess?

M: Yes.

SAGAL: I'm afraid it was B, it was put through a shredder.


M: Oh, boy.

SAGAL: Hadn't even been taken out of its packaging when an overzealous person at Sotheby's auction house put it into the shredder. All right, you still have two more chances here.

M: OK.

SAGAL: A masterpiece by Giorgio De Chirico was hanging on a wall in a townhouse in the Netherlands, perfectly safe, perfectly preserved, when what happened to it: A, a wrecking ball demolishing the building next door came through the wall and smashed it; B, it was hit by a meteor; or C, the microwave oven on the other side of the wall melted it?

M: A.

SAGAL: You are going to go for A, the wrecking ball?

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're right, very good.



SAGAL: You said that with such confidence.

M: I knew it.

SAGAL: That's amazing. All right, well this is great, you have one more question here. If you get this last one right, you will win everything. Here we go. The most ironic end to a work of art was probably what happened to an installation by avant garde artist Damien Hurst in 2001 in London. What was it: A, the anesthetized goat at the center of the piece woke up and walked away...


SAGAL: B, a custodian thought the whole thing was just a pile of rubbish and threw it away; or C, his piece using a whole cow was stolen by a gang of art thieves, who took it home and made burgers?


M: B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B, the custodian threw it away?

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're right again.



M: Woo!

SAGAL: Woo, he says. The installation, by Damien Hurst, was a pile of artfully arranged ash trays, half-filled cups and empty beer bottles. So naturally, the custodian thought it was garbage, and he threw it away.


SAGAL: He said, quote: I didn't think for a second that it was a work of art; it didn't much look like art to me.


M: Oh, my Lord.

SAGAL: Carl, how did Neil Sedaka do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well enough, Peter. Neil had two correct answers, so he wins for Tim Brown.

SAGAL: Well done, congratulations.


SAGAL: I've got to ask you a question. Probably - and I know that this is a generalization - but if not the most famous, one of the most famous songs you wrote was "Breaking Up is Hard to Do." You have been married to the same woman for 50 years, is that not true?

M: Close to 50 years. I was born married.

SAGAL: So how do you know how hard breaking up is?

M: Well, little did I know when I wrote it how difficult it was. But you know, if you're lucky to have that companion that does it for you, that's a great gift.

SAGAL: Right. So, of course, the original title was, I hear tell that breaking up is hard to do.


M: Well, and I also just rewrote it for my grandchildren. I called it "Waking Up is Hard to Do."


SAGAL: There you go.



SAGAL: Neil Sedaka is one of the great singer-songwriters of all time. His new album is called "The Music of My Life," Neil Sedaka, thank you so much...


M: Bye, you all.

SAGAL: ...for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bye, bye.

M: Bye, Peter, bye.

SAGAL: Bye, bye.

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